One Hot Potato – Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka

Potato Vodka Made by Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

PEI has long been known for growing world-class potatoes – they are, after all, our primary cash crop, injecting more than one billion dollars annually into the Island economy, directly and through spin-offs[i].  We all know potatoes as a vegetable on dinner tables and are familiar with them boiled, mashed, baked, as French fries and potato chips, and as the key ingredient in scalloped potatoes.  But, would you think of potatoes as a main ingredient in a beverage?   Well, there are a couple of industrious and innovative women who have figured out a new use for PEI spuds.  Julie Shore and Arla Johnson own and operate Prince Edward Distillery where potato vodka is their flagship product.

Road Map from Charlottetown to Hermanville, location of Prince Edward Distillery

Drive east from the Island’s capital city of Charlottetown along the northeastern shore of the Island and you will find Hermanville, a small rural district not far from the town of Souris in the eastern end of PEI.  Late this past summer, I travelled to Hermanville to visit Prince Edward Distillery to find out about this potato vodka. In addition to learning how potato vodka is made, I learned the Distillery is diversifying its operation.  They are now producing gin, rye whiskey, rum, and a bourbon-style corn whiskey that sells under the label of IC Shore and that’s in addition to the potato vodka and wild blueberry vodka.  Also new this year (2012) are their decadent rum cakes made locally with the Distillery’s Merchantman 1897 rum.

Products Made at Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

The story of Julie and Arla’s arrival on PEI is similar to several others who have come to the Island and made it their home.  They came to PEI on holiday in 1997, fell in love with the Island, and decided to move here.  Leaving their jobs behind – Julie as a dental hygiene sales representative and Arla as a psychologist – they built an Inn (Johnson Shore Inn) in Hermanville in 1999, down a long, secluded, and narrow, unpaved lane that leads to a spectacular unobstructed view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  However, they soon discovered the tourist, and by extension the innkeeper’s, season is short in rural PEI (usually late May to the end of September). That extra time on her hands got Julie thinking about the business her ancestors had been in, pre-prohibition, in North Carolina – distilling apple brandy and bourbon.  Living in the land of potatoes, Julie had the idea to set up a distillery to produce potato vodka.  Thus, in 2007, Prince Edward Distillery was born with the first batch of potato vodka running from the still’s spigot in 2008. 

Rum, Whiskey, and Rye Produced at Prince Edward Distillery

Julie is the master distiller.  In 2011, the Distillery produced 10,000 bottles of the six different liquors the Distillery produces. Apart from her ancestral history of distilling (she’ll tell you distilling is in her blood!), I asked Julie if she had to have special training to be a distiller.  She tells me she has taken a distilling course at Cornell University and yeast-making courses in Montreal and France.  She and Arla travel the world over visiting distilleries and learning more about the art of fine distilling.  Visit their onsite retail outlet and look at the large map on the wall that points out the impressive world travels Julie and Arla have journeyed. 

Julie says the best variety of potatoes for potato vodka is Russet Burbank.  These spuds are the highest starch potato grown on the Island and the starch content is important for the yeast to work in the fermentation process.  The Distillery buys approximately 50,000 pounds of locally-grown potatoes, on an annual basis, to use as the base for potato vodka. Julie explains that it takes about 18 pounds of potatoes to produce one 750 ml bottle of the potato vodka so, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of spuds to yield any amount of vodka.  While potato vodka is not unheard of, it is more rare since 99% of vodkas on the market are grain-based.  That’s probably because, as Julie says, potato vodka is difficult to distill due to the fact that potatoes are approximately 80% water, have to be cooked, and it takes such a volume of the raw ingredient (potatoes) to produce the final product. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka
Tour of Prince Edward Distillery

Making potato vodka is very labour intensive.  The potatoes are ground and cooked to break down their starch into fermentable sugars so that fermentation will occur with the addition of yeast (wait till you hear what is done with the leftover mash from the potatoes and who the benefactors are!).  The mixture is fermented for four days in 1000-gallon tanks to form alcohol. 

German-made Holstein Copper Vertical Still at Prince Edward Distillery

Using a 680-litre German-made Holstein copper vertical still that Julie had imported from Germany and capably assembled herself (since it came in parts and didn’t come with an instruction book), this fermentation mixture is distilled three times to remove impurities, achieve a neutrality of the alcohol, and to get the perfect alcohol content for the vodka.  Julie tells me it takes 10-14 days to produce a batch of vodka from start to finish, raw product (potatoes) to bottling.  

The Distillery has enjoyed sweet success and very early in its operation.  Their products rank among the best.  Just a year after producing their first vodka for market, the potato vodka won gold in the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and, in the same year, the wild blueberry vodka won silver in the UK International Spirits Challenge in London, England.  Yes, our locally-produced Island wines and spirits can match any on the market!

Prince Edward Distillery supports local producers, buying and using locally-produced potatoes, grains, and blueberries in their liquor production.  The Distillery employs between 4-6 full time employees and 1 part-time employee on a seasonal basis.  Currently, their products are sold in PEI and Nova Scotia markets.  However, they are exploring markets farther afield. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Spirit Outlet at Peakes Quay in Charlottetown, PEI

This past summer, the Distillery decided to open a spirits outlet shop at Peakes Quay on the Charlottetown waterfront, a popular tourist attraction of small shops and not far from the seaport where dozens of cruise ships dock each year.  In addition to the Peakes Quay location (open seasonally), the Distillery’s products are available at the onsite retail shop in Hermanville and in PEI and Nova Scotia liquor stores.

So, about that mash I mentioned earlier – the left-over potato product after the liquid has been extracted for the vodka.  Well, behind the distillery may well be what many have dubbed as the most cheerful hogs on the Island!  Yes, that’s right, hogs or, more specifically, Heritage Berkshire pigs which Julie raises on the mash.  She says there are lots of nutrients left in the potato mash so why throw it out when she can raise pigs on it!

Heritage Berkshire Pigs Raised on Mash at Prince Edward Distillery

The Distillery is open daily, May – October, for tours and taste-testing; from October – May, it is open by appointment or by chance.  A tour of the Distillery and taste-testing of two spirits costs $10. (or, if you simply want to taste any spirit, it is $3./taste).  For more information on the Prince Edward Distillery, visit their website, call them at 902-687-2586, or, better still (pun intended!), take the scenic northeastern shoreline route to Hermanville and visit the Distillery at 9985, Route 16.

Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

 

Whimsical T-Shirts at Prince Edward Distillery

True to tradition, when I visit a local producer, I bring home their product and create a recipe with it.  I decided to create a Vodka Tomato Sauce for pasta using Prince Edward Distillery’s potato vodka.  I find the vodka actually goes well with tomatoes and draws out the tomato flavour and makes it pop without adding a competing flavour to the dish.  The key, of course, is not to over-do it – less is often more and the idea is that the vodka enhance and contribute to the taste of the sauce, not overpower it.  My recipe creation follows.

Farfalle Pasta in Tomato Vodka Sauce

 

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today. There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

Join My Island Bistro Kitchen on Facebook
Follow the Bistro’s tweets on twitter @PEIBistro
Find the Bistro on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”
Follow along on Instagram at “peibistro”



[i] Source of Statistics:  Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 23 October 2012

Tomato Vodka Pasta Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: November 15, 2012

  • Yield:
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 50 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A rich, flavourful tomato sauce suitable for various types of pasta

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, celery, green pepper, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat 5-7 minutes.
  3. Whisk the corn starch with the cooled chicken stock until smooth.
  4. Stir tomato sauce, vodka, and chicken stock/cornstarch into mixture. Simmer 18-20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  5. Stir in whipping cream, oregano, basil, chives, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Simmer 7-10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Add drained pasta to tomato sauce and toss to coat.
  7. Spoon pasta into serving dishes. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, a spring of parsley, and halved cherry tomatoes.

WordPress Recipe Plugin by ReciPress

Maple Syrup Baked Beans (from My Island Bistro Kitchen)

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Growing up, baked beans was a traditional Saturday night supper in our household.  While I haven’t continued the Saturday night tradition, I do frequently have baked beans on the menu.

Baked beans make a very economical dish and freeze well for reheating later in the microwave.  These are a staple packaged in meal-portion sized dishes in my freezer.  I will make up a large batch and then divide them into serving sized containers that will freeze well.  I serve baked beans with homemade bread and molasses and mustard pickles and sometimes tomato chow.  When prepared ahead, they make a quick and nutritious meal.

We know beans are a good source of fiber and protein so they are good for our diet.  Making your own homemade beans is not difficult although it is a somewhat lengthy process:  The beans have to be soaked in water overnight, pre-cooked for about an hour or so, then baked in the oven for about 3 hours.  The bonus of homemade beans, however, is that they taste so much better than canned beans off the store shelf.

I like to use yellow-eye beans as I find they cook well and are not hard as I find dark beans to be.  My grandmother always grew the dark beans solely for the purpose of drying them and using them to make baked beans.  I always found the beans to be very hard despite that she would have baked them in a bean crock in the wood stove oven for hours and hours.

Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:

1) It softens the beans and lessens the cooking and baking times (the beans also expand to double or triple their size in the soaking process);

2) It allows the beans to absorb the liquid (become rehydrated) thus they will cook more evenly and hold their shape when baked (i.e., they won’t split open or become mushy)

3) It removes the indigestible complex sugars, making the beans easier to digest.

The jury is still out on adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking process of the beans.  Some say doing so will make the beans more tender, particularly if the water is hard.  Others claim the soda may also aid in digesting the beans while others subscribe to the theory that the baking soda does nothing for the beans.  My mother always added the baking soda to the beans and I continue the practice of adding 1/2 tsp of baking soda when cooking beans.  I figure 1/2 tsp will not harm the beans and, if it does do some good, so much the better.

Beans, on their own with no seasonings, can be very bland and tasteless.  I don’t think my grandmother added much to her baked beans other than some molasses, brown sugar, and water.  My mother always added some onion and ground mustard along with molasses, brown sugar, and water but very little else.  I like to gently spice the beans up a bit and, over the years, have perfected a recipe that suits my taste.  When an ingredient calls for a “dash”, I use an actual measuring spoon that has the “dash” as a measurement.  Spices, and the amount added, are very much a personal preference so each cook should adjust them to his or her own tastes.  My recommendation, of course, is to make the recipe the first time using the measurements called for and then decide what needs to be adjusted for the next time.  As well, if there is a particular spice that you absolutely do not like, simply omit it.  The recipe that I have developed does not use large amounts of any one spice.  I did this because I still wanted the original bean taste and didn’t want any particular spice to overpower the natural taste of a traditional baked beans dish.

Some like to add salt pork, regular bacon, or cut-up weiners to the baked beans.  I prefer just the beans but that is a personal preference and meats can certainly be added, if desired.

As those of you who have been following my blog will know, I recently went to Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI, to visit a sugar shack that was in operation producing maple syrup.  Since I like to add some maple syrup to my baked beans, I thought this was a good time to share my recipe with you so, here it is.  Enjoy!

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Ingredients:

 Method:

Place beans in large bowl.  Add enough cold water to completely cover the beans. Cover.   Soak overnight.

Soaking the Dried Beans
Soaking the Dried Beans

Drain soaked beans in colander.  Discard water.  Place beans in large pot and add 4 cups fresh cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and add 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and fork-testing beans for doneness.  Beans should still be firm but not hard when cooked.  Do not overcook or beans will become mushy and lose their shape.

Drain the beans in large colander, reserving the liquid.  Set liquid aside. Rinse the beans with cold water.  Place beans in 2-quart casserole or small roaster pan.  Add remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the reserved liquid.  Stir gently until well combined.

Ingredients for Maple Syrup Baked Beans
Ingredients for Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Bake, covered, in 300F oven for about 3 hours or until beans are fork-tender.  Check beans 2-3 times during baking and add more liquid if needed.

Baked Beans
Baked Beans